The Skatalites

The Skatalites

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The Skatalites

The Skatalites are a ska band from Jamaica. They played initially between 1963 and 1965, and recorded many of their best known songs in the period, including "Guns of Navarone". They also played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artists who recorded during that period.[1] They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.


Before the Skatalites: 1954-64

The founders of the Skatalites were Tommy McCook (died 1998), Rolando Alphonso (died 1998), Lloyd Brevett (died 2012), Lloyd Knibb (died 2011), Lester Sterling, Don Drummond (died 1969), Jah Jerry Haynes (died 2007), Jackie Mittoo (died 1990), Johnny Moore (died 2008) and Jackie Opel (died 1970). These ten musicians started to play together from 1955, when Kingston's recording studios started to develop. Tommy McCook was the first member of the band to record, though not for commercial release: he played with Don Hitchman's Group in 1953. Archie Lindo asked Hitchman to play a few tunes for his pioneer radio station, "ZQI", on their new equipment. Soon after that, sound system pioneer Stanley Motta began to operate his studio, where he recorded calypso and mento that were released on 78's. Rolando Alphonso was one of the first to record with him, probably in 1954.

Though McCook was the first in the band to record, he did not participate in the recording sessions with the other nine musicians. He left Jamaica in 1954 for a jazz gig at the Zanzibar Club in Nassau, Bahamas. He returned to Jamaica in June 1962, and began playing regular jazz sessions around Kingston.

Coxsone Dodd searched for jazz players around Kingston and was impressed by McCook's playing. Tommy McCook heard some ska, but initially resisted Coxsone Dodd's offers to record and to lead a studio group, because he was a committed jazzman. In 1962 Dodd released I Cover The Waterfront (Port-O-Jam) with Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond, who did the solo and brass sections. In 1963 he released Jazz Jamaica From the Workshop (Port-O-Jam/Studio One), on which McCook played for the first time since returning to Jamaica. Don Drummond has two tunes on Jazz Jamaica and McCook has one, "The Answer".

Early years: 1964-65

In spring 1964, The Skatalites recorded their first LP Ska Authentic at Studio One in Kingston and toured Jamaica as the creators of ska. Their producers were Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Vincent "King" Edwards, Justin "Phillip" Yap, Leslie Kong, Lindon Pottinger, Sonia Pottinger and Vincent "Randy" Chin. The Skatalites led sessions with top artists and worked with young talents such as Delroy Wilson, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Lee Perry, etc.

They played their first show on 27 June at the Hi-Hat club, on Water Lane in Rae Town, which was owned and operated by Orville "Billy" Farnum. Coxsone Dodd helped initially: "At the formation of the band, I supplied the PA system, microphones and what ever it is. Also the guitar amplifier and other amplifier. I helped with transportation and I supplied storage for equipment and instruments. I was a part of promoting the first gigs and other gigs to get it off the ground, because I figured more or less, if I am recording the Skatalites, its good to get them popular out in the streets, yunno?"[2]

In fall 1964, Don Drummond's composition "Man in the Street" entered the Top 10 in the UK. Trombonist Drummond had at least 200 tunes to his name by 1965. On 1 January 1965, Drummond was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Anita "Marguerita" Mahfood. He was later convicted and remanded to the Bellevue Asylum.

In August 1965, The Skatalites played their last show. They broke up into two supergroups, Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. In early 1967, Drummond's ska adaptation of the theme to the film The Guns of Navarone entered the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart.[3] Don Drummond died on 6 May 1969, in the Bellevue Asylum.

Early reunions: 1974-88

The Skatalites first reunion happened in the studio, during 1974 sessions for bass player Lloyd Brevett's solo album. After laying down hand percussion tracks at Lee Perry's studio, Brevett was joined by McCook, Alphonso, Sterling, Knibb and Mittoo. Ernest Ranglin played guitar, with Oswald Brooks on trumpet.[4] The album was eventually released as African Roots, a collection of mostly Brevett compositions, and has been variously released both as a Lloyd Brevett and as a Skatalies album, with most editions crediting "Lloyd Brevett and The Skatalites".

In 1979, The Skatalites again joined in the studio, this time to record an album for Chris Blackwell. The album, tentatively entitled The Big Guns, was not released at the time, due to a disagreement between McCook and Blackwell, and remains unreleased.[4]

In June 1983, The Skatalites reformed and played the Reggae Sunsplash festival in Montego Bay in July after festival director Ronnie Burke persuaded them to appear at the fifth anniversary of the festival, despite Moore and McCook having not spoken since the band split.[5][6] Their show was very successful[7] and the band played more concerts in Jamaica, while taking offers to tour abroad. The line-up at this time reflected the original line-up of the band, with the exception of Drummond, joined by guests Cedric Brooks, Arnold Breckenridge, and Bubbles Cameron.[8] Recordings from 27 June and 17 July 1983 were released on the live album Stretching Out, although the band later claimed on their website that they received no payment for this recording and discouraged fans from buying it.

Their rehearsal sessions resulted in a clutch of new songs, led this time by Jackie Mittoo, which were recorded in Music Mountain Studio but only released in 2007 on Motion Records (as 'Rolling Steady: The 1983 Music Mountain Sessions'). The album included their tribute to Don Drummond, 'Big Trombone', with Lord Tanamo on vocals. In April 1984, The Skatalites recorded The Return of The Big Guns, released on Mango Records in the U.K., based on charts written by Drummond and arranged by McCook. On 7 July 1984, The Skatalites played to thousands at Selhurst Park during the London Sunsplash. The Skatalites played seven tunes and also backed Prince Buster on three before closing with a reprise of their theme song, "Freedom Sounds". This concert resulted in the live recording Live At Sunsplash.

Between 1985 and 1988, the core members of the Skatalites emigrated and united in the northeast of the United States. They played their first US concert at The Village Gate and began to play spotted dates in Northeast US.


In April 1989, The Skatalites supported Bunny Wailer's Liberation Tour featuring seven original members: Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lester Sterling, Johnny Moore, Jackie Mittoo, Lloyd Brevett, and Lloyd Knibb with special guests Dion Knibb on vocals, Devon James on guitar, and Ken Stewart on keyboards. In January 1990, The Skatalites did their first headline tour of the US with the same lineup except Jackie Mittoo and Lester Sterling. On 16 December 1990, Jackie Mittoo died in Toronto, Canada, from cancer. Between 1991 and 1993, The Skatalites continued touring the US and in 1992 did their first tour of Europe.

In 1993, Skavoovee was released in the US on Shanachie Records and in Japan as McCooke's Book. The Skavoovee tour featuring The Skatalites, Special Beat, The Selecter, and The Toasters tours the US. The Skatalites were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Reggae Album twice: in January 1996, for their 1995 Shanachie release, Hi-Bop Ska and in January 1997, for their 1996 Shanachie release, Greetings From Skamania.

In 1997, The Skatalites released Ball of Fire on Island Records with special guest Ernest Ranglin on guitar. On 5 May 1998, Tommy McCook died near his home in Lithonia, Georgia. On 17 November 1998, Rolando Alphonso died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

On 27 March 1999, Cedric Brooks (tenor sax) joined The Skatalites and in May 2000, The Skatalites record a new album, "Bashaka", at The Hit Factory in Miami, featuring 15 original tracks and special guest Ken Boothe on a vocal track. On 26 and 27 December 2001, The Skatalites recorded new album in Paris at Davout Studios for Celluloid Records and released as From Paris with Love on 15 April 2002. In February 2002, The Skatalites began a nine-month world tour, visiting USA, Europe, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Russia and Japan. In April 2003, The Skatalites returned to the studio with Toots Hibbert to record a contribution to his new album, True Love. They recorded "Never Grow Old" with Terry Hall and U-Roy. The album subsequently won a Grammy in 2004. In March 2004, The Skatalites announced the beginning of their 40th Anniversary tour including Colombia, Greece and Singapore, in addition to the usual global stops. Vin Gordon and Karl Bryan joined the band.

In 2004, original member Lloyd Brevett left the band. It was reported that he was removed from the band after conflicts with newer members.[9] He toured briefly leading his own band, and then retired to Jamaica. In April that year, the Skatalites started a new world tour with their new bass player Val Douglas, whose A-Team band was the primary backing band for Reggae Sunsplash Tours through the 1980s and 1990s. In October 2005, The Skatalites released The Skatalites in Orbit, Vol.1 recorded live in Buenos Aires, recorded during concerts on 23 and 24 September 2005. In March 2006, The Skatalites played at La Bal De La Rose for Caroline, Princess of Hanover, along with Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Alpha Blondy. This show started the 2006 Global Orbit Tour reaching Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. In April 2006, Skatalites recorded 11 new tunes and one cover in Byron Bay, Australia at the 301 Studios, released the following year as the album On The Right Track by AIM International, Australia. In September 2007, The Skatalites contributed the track "Be My Guest", with Ben Harper on vocals, to the Fats Domino tribute CD Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino featuring numerous artists. This CD raised funds for all the musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina.

On 12 May 2011, founding member and drummer Lloyd Knibb died of liver cancer at the age of 80. Bass player and fellow founding member Lloyd Brevett passed away after a stroke almost exactly one year later, on 3 May 2012, aged 80.[10]

On 8 February 2012 the band announced a new single and album due out in 2012 as well as a new US tour starting in Texas and heading to New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Oregan, California, Washington and then Canada. These dates follow four dates they announced in January for the North East. The new album will be titled All Roads and will feature the last recordings of founding member Lloyd Knibb.


Current members

  • Lester Sterling - alto saxophone (founding member)
  • Doreen Shaffer - vocals (founding member)
  • Azemobo "Zem" Audu - tenor saxophone
  • Andrae Murchison - trombone
  • Travis Antoine - trumpet
  • Val Douglas - bass guitar
  • Natty Frenchy - guitar
  • Ken Stewart - keyboards
  • Trevor "Sparrow" Thompson - drums

Former members

  • Tommy McCook - tenor saxophone, flute (founding member; died 1998)
  • Roland Alphonso - tenor saxophone (founding member; died 1998)
  • Don Drummond - trombone (founding member; died 1969)
  • Johnny "Dizzy" Moore - trumpet (founding member; died 2008)
  • Lloyd Brevett - upright bass (founding member; died 2012)
  • Lloyd Knibb - drums (founding member; died 2011)
  • Jerome "Jah Jerry" Haynes - guitar (founding member; died 2007)
  • Jackie Mittoo - piano (founding member; died 1990)
  • Mark Berney - trumpet
  • Nathan Breedlove - trumpet (199198)
  • Cedric "Im" Brooks - tenor saxophone (200002,2007-10; died 2013)
  • Karl "Cannonball" Bryan - saxophone (200309)
  • Calvin "Bubbles" Cameron - trombone (198384)
  • Welford "Will" Clark - trombone (1994-2003)
  • Vin "Don D. Junior" Gordon - trombone (200308)
  • Devon James - guitar (1987-2009)
  • Bill Smith - keyboards (199399)
  • Ken Stewart - keyboards (1988-90,1998-2009; also serves as the band's manager)
  • Clark Gayton- Trombone (198994)
  • Cary Brown - keyboards (1990-95)
  • Louis Bonilla - trombone

Additional personnel

Though not official band members, these musicians worked with the Skatalites extensively during the 1964-65 period in the recording studio, or in the case of the vocalists, at live shows.[11] Lord Tanamo, Baba Brooks, and Ernest Ranglin have all worked with the reunited Skatalites at different times, both live and in the studio.

  • Jackie Opel - vocals
  • Tony Gregory - vocals
  • Lord Tanamo - vocals
  • Dennis "Ska" Campbell - tenor saxophone
  • Oswald "Baba" Brooks - trumpet
  • Frank Anderson - trumpet
  • Ernest Ranglin - lead guitar
  • Lyn Taitt - rhythm guitar
  • Winston Grennan - Drums


Studio albums

  • Ska Authentic (Studio One, 1964)
  • Ska Boo-Da-Ba (Top Deck/Doctor Bird, 1966)
  • Ska Authentic Vol. 2 (Studio One, 1967)
  • Celebration Time (Studio One, 196?)
  • The Skatalite! (Treasure Isle, 1969)
  • The Legendary Skatalites/African Roots Lloyd Brevett with the Skatalites (Jam Sounds, 1975/United Artists, 1976)
  • Rolling Steady: The 1983 Music Mountain Sessions (Motion, recorded 1983, released 2007)
  • Return of the Big Guns (Island, 1984)
  • Ska Voovee (Shanachie, 1993)
  • Hi-Bop Ska (Shanachie, 1994)
  • Greetings from Skamania (Shanachie, 1996)
  • Ball of Fire (Island, 1998)
  • Bashaka with Ken Boothe (Marston Recording Corporation, 2000)
  • From Paris with Love (World Village, 2002/Wrasse, 2009)
  • On the Right Track (AIM, 2007)
  • Walk With Me (2012)

Live albums

  • Live at Sunsplash (1984)
  • Stretching Out (ROIR, recorded 1983, released 1987)
  • Roots Party (FullFill, 2003)
  • Live at Lokerse Feesten 1997 & 2002 CD/DVD (Charly, 2006)
  • In Orbit Vol. 1 - Live from Argentina (Phantom Sound & Vision, 2006)
  • Skatalites in Orbit, Vol. 1 & 2 (Sony, 2010)

Collaboration albums

  • 1963 - The Long Hot Summer with Laurel Aitken (1963)
  • In the Mood for Ska with Lord Tanamo (Trojan 1967)
  • With Sly & Robbie & Taxi Gang (Vista, 1984)
  • Ska Titans: Laurel Aitken & The Skatalites (1999)
  • Ska Splash with Laurel Aitken and House of Rhythm (Moonska, 2002)
  • Long Hot Summer 1963 Volume 2 with Laurel Aitken (Grover, 2006)

Anthologies and reissues

  • Scattered Lights (Alligator, 1984)
  • Hog in a Cocoa Skatalites & Friends (Culture Press/Orange Street, 1993)
  • Foundation Ska (Heartbeat/Pgd, 1997)
  • Skatalites and Friends at Randy's (VP Records, 1998)
  • Ska Boo-Da-Ba: Top Sounds from Top Deck, Volume 3 (Westside UK, 1998)
  • Ska-Ta-Shot: Top Sounds from Top Deck, Volume 4 (Westside UK, 1998)
  • Ska-Tola: Top Sounds from Top Deck, Volume 5 (Westside UK, 1998)
  • Heroes of Reggae in Dub: The Skatalites Meet King Tubby (Guava Jelly, 1999)
  • Nucleus of Ska (Music Club, 2001)
  • The Legendary Skatalites in Dub (Motion, 2001)
  • Herb Dub, Collie Dub (Motion, 2002)
  • Lucky Seven (Proper Pairs, 2002)
  • Musical Communion (Culture Press, 2003)
  • Guns of Navarone - Best of Skatalites (Sanctuary Records, 2003)
  • Phoenix City: A History of the World's Greatest Ska Band (Sanctuary Records, 2004)
  • In the Mood for Ska - The Moonska Years (Recall Records UK, 2004)
  • Independent Ska (Atom Music, 2006)
  • Anthology (Primo, 2007)
  • The Skatalites Play Ska (Kingston Sounds, 2007)
  • Kingston 11 (King Edwards, 2008)
  • Occupation Ska! Very Best of Skatalites (101 Distribution, 2009)
  • The Skatalites Box Set (Pinnacle/Attack Records, 2009)
  • Rollin' On (King Edwards, 2010)


  • Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard Records, 2007), performing Domino's "Be My Guest", with Ben Harper
  • Music From Glastonbury The Film (The Glastonbury Phonographic Society, 2006), performing "Phoenix City" (live at the 2003 Glastonbury Festival)
  • Another World Is Possible (Uncivilized World Records, 2005), performing "Freedom Sounds" (live)
  • True Love (V2 Records, 2004), performing "Never Grow Old" with Terry Hall and U-Roy
  • Ska Island (Island Records, 1997), performing their own "Magic Star", as well as "Can't You See" with Doreen Shaefer, and "King of Kings" with Prince Buster.
  • The Rough Guide to Reggae (World Music Network, 1997)
  • R.O.R.X. - The Tenth Annual Reggae On The Rocks - August 10, 1996 (1996), performing "Guns Of Navarone" (live).


  1. Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, 1st, Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing.
  2. History, The Skatalites website.
  3. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums, 19th, London: Guinness World Records Limited.
  4. 4.0 4.1 African Roots 1997 Moon Ska records edition liner notes
  5. Campbell, Charles (2012) "The Skatalites musical journey", Jamaica Observer, 20 May 2012, retrieved 2012-06-01
  6. Johnson, Richard (2012) "When the Skatalites reunited for Sunsplash", Jamaica Observer, 15 June 2012, retrieved 2012-06-17
  7. Lloyd Knibb biography, Skatalites officialwebsite.
  8. Liner notes, "Stretching Out", ROIR records
  9. "Ska music pioneer Lloyd Brevett dies in Jamaica at 80", CBC News, May 4, 2012.
  10. "Skatalites Bassist Lloyd Brevett Dead at 80", Billboard.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: The Skatalites

  • Official Skatalites website
  • The Skatalites(photos) / Live in Moscow (RUS) / 17/06/2011
This page was last modified 24.03.2014 04:02:53

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